From A Levels to undergraduate study, how hard is the transition…really?

This post is based on my experiences at Newcastle University so the links at the bottom are only applicable to prospective students there. However, in my experience I’ve found that most universities have similar provisions for their first-year students, go on their websites to find out more!


From A Levels to undergraduate study, how hard is the transition…really?

At Newcastle’s undergraduate visit day this year, I was asked half a dozen times about how hard being a university student is compared to studying for your A levels. Google this question and you’ll find yourself in a sea of internet forums with complacent or panicked students bragging about how much easier it is or students stressing over how difficult the transition is.

The truth?

It’s incredibly subjective. University is going to be as difficult as you want to make it for yourself but you also have a lot to gain from putting in the extra effort. So essentially, the difficulty of the transition is, like most things at university, largely up to you. The hardest bit about coming to university (in my humble opinion) is how to live with your newfound independence but chances are, you’re going to have that challenge around this time in your life regardless of whether you choose to come to university or not.

But back to the studying.

I’m going to unashamedly hold my hands up here and admit that I’m a nerd – I love to learn. So imagine my surprise when I went from working hard and getting awesome grades in college to working hard and getting low-average grades in university. It was a shocker, for sure.

This wasn’t because the transition was too difficult or because I’d lost smart points over my blissfully long and wonderful gap year, this is because of a simple truth that will be repeated to you time and time again by your lecturers: you have to learn to work differently.

A brilliant thing about first stage (your first year) when you come to university is that it doesn’t count at all in your marks, you just have to pass it. One big important reason for this is that your lecturers want you to adapt your college habits to suit university – now, instead of writing to pass an exam, you’re writing to show that you really understand and can analyse the material and, most importantly, you can think for yourself. Weirdly, A levels don’t encourage this practice too much and instead, they opt for wanting you to say specific things (I remember spending far too much time memorising legislation dates on flashcards and looking at mark schemes), rather than your own ideas. You might already be doing this sort of thing, if that’s the case then great! Keep practising! But for those of you who aren’t – don’t worry. You’ll figure out how to express your thoughts and argue your point wonderfully soon enough and once you do, you’ll wonder how you ever did it differently.


It’s well worth mentioning that there’s loads of support available to you to help with the academic transition into university (the non-academic side is worth a whole other post of its own!). Here are a couple of pointers to give you an idea of the amount of people you can turn to:


  • Your lecturer
    Obvious, I know, but your first port of call if you get stuck about something specific to your module should be the person who’s leading it or who’s heading up your seminars
  • Your peer mentor
    Most first years will have a peer mentor who is a student in their 2nd or 3rd year who has been trained to point you in the right direction for help and to share their own experiences of university
  • Your personal tutor
    You’ll be allocated a personal tutor that you meet up with at least once a semester, you can talk to them about all things university – including how to make the transition from A level to university as smooth as possible
  • Your peers
    There’s a very good chance your degree has its own university society or at very least, a Facebook group for your course and/or year. Talk to other people and see how they’re getting on, quiz the 2nd and 3rd year students over what modules they picked and how they make referencing less boring (everyone has a tactic!)


There’s also university-wide support you can use too such as:


The transition from A Level to university can be really daunting and challenging but there’s loads of support you can access if you need a hand – plus you have all of your first year to figure it out before you really have to knuckle down when your grades start ‘counting’.

So try new things and have fun!

The EU Referendum: You’re Tired of Hearing About it but There’s One Last Thing You Should Know

Recently everywhere I look has been taken over by a very big question – is Britain going to leave the EU?
This is partly because I choose to surround myself with politics, heck I’m a history student, being a politics nerd pretty much comes with the territory. However, the EU Referendum is something special.

Unlike most politics, this has went well beyond the heady realm of the elite bigwigs in government and is now an issue that is crossing the social and political boundaries of generations, class, race, and regions with a fiercely passionate edge.

But despite this, there is still one major problem that I just can’t iron out of the argument no matter what I read or who I listen to.

I respect everyone’s right to their own political views but I’m finding it hard to see any logic in anyone whatsoever voting Leave when I’m yet to find a single solid argument of how it would be a positive decision on a global scale. That’s right, global.

I’ve followed the debate for months looking at both sides and this is still something I can’t get my head around no matter how impartial I try to be or how much research I do.

There is literally nothing to gain by Britain leaving the EU that cannot be answered for by the wealth of benefits Britain reaps from its membership.

Furthermore, if you are not a British citizen/you detach yourself from that status for a minute, just ask yourself – is a breakdown in the European Union, which is a very real possibility if Britain leaves, going to have a positive impact on a global scale?

Is a future of a divided Europe really the legacy you want your vote to have?

And what about the past?
Has political disengagement and isolationism ever really benefitted political relations?

Think about war, think about terrorism, think about technological and medical advancement, space exploration, civil and human rights progress, international relations, education, ethics, religions.

Think about the big stuff and just ask yourself – are we better off exploring and addressing these issues as a united front or should Britain turn away from all of this and cast itself aloof from these problems by disengaging with the very union that was created to solve them?

I urge everyone to deeply consider this before they cast their vote. This referendum isn’t some political protest, a patriotic takeback of ‘England for the English’, some working class revolt or a fingers up to the EU.

Now, you could be right in sitting there scratching your head and wondering why I’m asking you to think about your vote on such a big scale. It seems silly right? Arrogant even, to think that Britain could have such an impact on the enormously broad and complex issues I’ve mentioned above, let alone where you put the all-important cross on that scrap of paper.
But what if it isn’t?

Can you really justify running the risk of taking it any less seriously?

Will the generations after us be proud of our efforts to consider each argument both carefully and seriously or will they look back in amguish at the shambolic media campaigns (both leave and remain) that have taken over our screens in recent months?

As almost every student who takes history in an English comprehensive knows (alongside hopefully many more people!), it took just one spark to set alight the events leading to World War One.
I’m not saying that World War Three is on the brink here but just consider how these brief moments in history can then become the spark that sets the world on fire.

Can anyone confidently say the EU referendum is a light or easy decision with this in mind?

The EU referendum is a pivotal moment in modern history that can either divide us or bring us closer together in the name of progress.

I’m voting remain, that much is obvious.
This post however, isn’t about talking you round to my opinion. It’s to provoke you into thinking further about the impact of your vote and what’s at stake here. If you vote Leave then that is completely acceptable. You are not racist or a bigot or uneducated or any of the other entirely undemocratic slurs that are being bandied about as a result of that decision. You have your reasons and so long as you can rationally justify them on a bigger scale then no one has any right to think negatively of you because of that. That isn’t what democracy is about.

However, you have a responsibility to yourself and to everyone around you both past, present and future. That responsibility is to not take the EU referendum lightly or be swayed by the media’s statistical spin that tries to make you and your interests the heart of this issue.

Please, whatever you box you do decide to make your mark on, strongly consider the bigger picture and the impact your vote will have on the future and indeed, the history books in generations to come.

This decision has to be bigger than us as individuals, families, our small local communities or even our children’s futures.
We all must pause here to think deeply and broadly of the bigger global picture and not of ourselves.

Above all, think.

15 Ways to Make the Most of Your Student Summer


Volunteering at Newcastle’s Unity Festival

Summer becomes a glorious beacon of free time where we students dream of reinventing ourselves, travelling the world, writing books and doing everything that we don’t have the time to do when we’re studying.  Within a few weeks of freedom however, we will most likely find ourselves binge-watching Netflix (need I mention how excited I am for season three of Orange Is the New Black?) while it rains outside and staying up until 4am taking Buzzfeed quizzes named ‘Can We Guess Your Favourite Colour?” to compare results with your equally disillusioned pal.
The four months leading up to September that once felt full of opportunity and freedom have suddenly turned into a frequent dilemma over whether it’s worth putting on makeup that day and a newly found passion for watching Eastenders rather than reading Weber.
So how do we get out of this comfortable yet miserable rut and motivate ourselves to make this summer recognisable to the one we spent long hours stuffed in the library daydreaming about?
Read on…

  1. Plan, Plan, Plan
    The more realistically you plan your summer out, the more likely you are to actually go through with it. Try doing a week by week set of objectives to keep yourself on track – just make sure you treat yourself kindly, it is summer after all!
  2. Volunteer
    We’ve heard this time and time again about the benefits of volunteering: helping out your community, meeting new people, looks awesome on your CV, allows you to brag about what a giving person you are etc. etc. but guys, it is worth doing whatever your reasons and though you get some volunteering duds, you get a lot more that will give you brilliant experiences. Try it out!
  3. Work
    Okay, this isn’t the most exciting prospect but it will lead you to better things and part-time or full-time work can be an eye-opening break from the world of study. Just be sure to keep in mind that you have your entire life to work after university and this time is probably your best shot to branch out and focus your energies elsewhere.
  4. That thing you’ve always said you were going to do? Do it!
    Come up with an action plan to keep you on track and focused. It might feel daunting at the beginning but there’s always a way to make something happen.
  5. Broaden Your Mind
    Get a good understanding of something different or deepen what you already know by reading books, watching documentaries, attending classes, talking to other people etc. Not being bound by academia means you have no framework so you’ll have to come up with your own but the flipside of that is that you can take your learning in whatever direction you fancy.
  6. Travel
    “It’s too expensive” is the reason a lot of people give for putting off travelling but that’s only a limitation as much as you let it be and by no means am I saying that’s easy but it is possible to overcome. Whether you’re backpacking around Europe with a tent on your back or staying with your Aunt in Dorset for a few days, getting out in a different environment has great benefits.
  7. Explore New Hobbies
    If you’ve ever wanted to try your hand at pottery or judo, now is the perfect time when you can really focus on learning the basics, plus, it means it’ll be far easier to keep up with in September when you’re back in education.
  8. Detox
    Okay, so maybe summer isn’t the best time to ditch drinking if that’s your thing but it might be easier to do it in June than during Fresher’s week. It’ll give your body a health boost and it might just change your perspective on your usual habits (a 6 month break from drinking did this to me and I’ve never looked back!).
  9. Visit Friends and Family
    Uni life can disconnect you from your family and friends quite easily, especially if you don’t live at home. Though you can’t remedy this entirely, you can make the most of your summer days by making up for lost time and catching up on what you’ve missed out on.
  10. Go on a Health Kick
    Whether you’re a dedicated gym-goer or you’re looking to escape a student-esque diet of leftover takeaways and flat beer, boosting the attention you pay to your health up a notch will make you feel better and fitter.
  11. Downsize
    Chances are, being at uni has made you realise how little material possessions you actually need, or at least, it’s made you realise that the DVD collection you had when you were 13 no longer has a place in your life. Go through your old belongings and streamline what you own by handing them down to younger family members, selling them on or donating them to charity.
  12. Make a Five Year Plan
    Okay, these are normally reserved for ‘national economic programs’, remember Stalin’s? Didn’t go so well. Anyway, spend some time figuring out where you want to be and how you plan on getting there, have back-up options in case something goes askew. Have a bit of fun with it and don’t limit yourself. Keeping the bigger picture in perspective really helps for motivation!
  13. Blog
    You don’t have to be able to write or know some topic through and through in order to share your thoughts/opinions/daily lifestyle with the world. You can start your own podcast, video blog or a more traditional blog – whatever format you prefer. It’ll help you develop your own style and can be a great portfolio to have handy.
  14. Explore Your City

    Explore your city and go somewhere new

    Go on a wander, go on a few, take a friend, a book, bottles of wine or a picnic. Whatever you choose, exploring the city you’re in can give you a whole new appreciation for it plus it means when term-time comes back around, you’ll be in the know of the lesser-explored spots and can use them to your advantage!

  15. Relax
    Perhaps the most important thing you will do your entire summer is relax. This is your opportunity to take a break from the stresses of life, something you may not be able to do so easily in the future. Make the most of it and enjoy yourself!

May 2015 Update – Welcome!

Welcome to the new website for The English Teacup!

You may have noticed that things have been very quiet on The English Teacup (blogspot) lately and this is because I’ve been overwhelmed with my end of year exams and I’ve been waiting on a free moment to set up this new website. As domain names do cost a little money to keep running and I’d love to be on a premium plan in the future, please spare the time to peruse my archived blog and have a wander on a few of the adverts to help while the application for this new website to run Google Adsense is processing.

So what’s been going on this month?
My exams and first year at university finished on the 22nd and as per, I took them way more seriously than your average first-year undergrad student should but I’ve learned so much that I don’t have a single regret about hitting the books plus, if you’re doing something you love and have a genuine interest in, it doesn’t feel all that much like work. Enough about that though, student summer is upon us!

I was elected president of Newcastle University’s Creative Writing Society last week meaning I have a greater excuse to lose myself in words (among other responsibilities of course!), keep your eyes peeled for creative pieces coming onto this blog! It may be a little while yet as the projects I’m currently working on are quite lengthy, I plan on finishing one of them before I start shorted projects that I can post online.

There will be a post uploaded over the next few days about Newcastle’s Unity Festival 2015. It was a brilliant event for a great cause and volunteering as a steward for the first time gave me a different perspective to the whole thing which I can’t wait to tell you about.

As a sacrifice for the sake of revision and my own sanity, I spent two weeks staying off Facebook (apart from a few unavoidable browses but more about that later). It was quite interesting to see how my attitude towards it as well as my attitude towards life in general changed over the fortnight. I’ll be posting more about it later but I can confidently say that it was an eye-opener to see just how much Facebook is integrated into absolutely everything from event invitations to keeping up with news to organising academic presentations – not being on it was like declaring I was a hermit!

Anyway, that’s all for now.
Let me know what you think of the new website and be sure to sign up to the email updates so you can be in the loop with what’s going on!

– The English Teacup